WINDSOR STAR — August 2, 2018 — The Tecumseh Thunder will look to see if there’s yet another title left in the tank while the Windsor Stars appear poised to get back into championship contention.
Both teams, along with the Windsor Athletic Association, will take aim at the Ontario senior elimination baseball title when the 22-team tournament takes place locally this weekend.
Four-straight titles by the Thunder marks the best run by an Ontario club since the Windsor Chiefs reeled off six-straight titles from 1986-91, but the defending champs lost 10 players from last year’s squad.
“It was nothing short of people working, moving or just needing a break,” Thunder manager Jamie Kell said of the roster losses. “I feel, no matter what turnover we have or guys coming in, the chance is always there, but you’re not going to roll through this tournament.”
The double-knockout event begins for local teams at 9:30 a.m. when the Thunder face Leaside at Lacasse Park and the Stars meet Strathroy at Cullen Stadium. Windsor A.A. opens play at 12 noon against Thornhill at Cullen Stadium.
“This is the best team we’ve had since 2013,” said Stars manager Ron Smith, whose team is seeking its first Ontario title since 2012.
The Thunder head into the tournament having lost three pitchers from a year ago and seven position players and will carry just 18 players on the roster as opposed to 23 from a year ago.
“Eighteen is actually a little more manageable,” Kell said. “The at-bats have gone up and the innings pitched and it’s starting to show.”
Right-hander Chris Horvath has returned to the team after playing out west last season. Right-hander Brandon Lindquist is also back to go with ace right-hander Joel Pierce, left-hander Taylor Pappin and right-hander Jesse Carriere. Right-handers Eric Carducci, Webber Snow and Austin Oulds provide depth.
Offensively, the Thunder got a boost with Cam Goddard returning to the game after some time off. The club also picked up Oulds, who will play centre field, and third baseman Roberto Duncan to go with second baseman Matt Sykes, catcher Eric Cunningham, right fielder Ross Barker, shortstop Brandon Gignac, left fielder Casey Boutette and Carriere, who will be the designated hitter.
“You would think (losing 10 players) would be a blow to the team and the system, but for some reason these guys came back stayed closer together and worked harder,” Kell said.
The Stars got a boost this season with the graduation of several players from the defending Ontario champion Windsor Junior Selects program, which won a silver medal at last year’s nationals.
“We went from a 30-year-old team, on average, to about 24,” Smith said. “It’s been an exciting and fun team to coach and I don’t feel like a 67-year-old anymore.”
The Stars picked up two pitching studs from the Selects in right-handers Jack Zimmerman and Matt Krutsch to go with left-handed ace Steve Teno, left-hander Chris Renaud, left-hander Dane Little, right-hander Bobby St. Pierre and right-hander Josh Neposlan.
“The big this is the young kids are making the 35- and 36-year-olds feel like they’re 26 again,” Smith said.
Offensively, the Stars’ lineup also got a huge boost when shortstop Jake Lumley, who is a former Oakland A’s draft pick, opted to come home. He makes a solid offence even better joining the likes of centre fielder Steven Adam, right fielder Noah Renaud, left fielder Frank Jeney, Bryan Dufour, Dale Kryway, Anthony Dufour, Kyle Moloney and catcher Andrew Wasyluk.
“When we lost all players (after hosting the 2013 Canadian championship), Tecumseh stood up and carried the Essex County banner in years when we’ve been building,” Smith said. “You just don’t go to your junior program and find that many people. Now that they’ve graduated, it’s been worth the wait.”